Can Toddlers Eat Cold Cut Meats?

Cold cuts or deli meats make an easy meal for a toddler either in a sandwich or rolled up with a piece of cheese. Depending on how they were processed, cold cuts can be nutritious as long as you take certain precautions. Cold cuts can harbor the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium, which sickens around 1,600 people per year and causes about 260 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heating cold cuts destroys the bacteria and makes them safe to eat.

Choosing Cold Cuts

If you buy cold cuts from your supermarket deli, stick to lean meats like turkey, chicken and lean beef, which supply essential nutrients to your toddler's diet. If you buy packaged cold cuts made from pressed meat, with additives such as sodium, sugar and fillers, your toddler gets less nutritional value. Buy deli meats sliced in front of you so you know exactly what you're getting. Ask the counter attendant about nitrite-free and low-sodium choices; nitrites can form harmful compounds that have caused cancer in laboratory animals.


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When Is it Safe to Give a Toddler Lunch Meat?

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Toddlers are at not at high risk for serious illness from listeria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant women and newborns, along with the elderly and people with compromised immune systems have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill. Listeria can make toddlers sick, however. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms, with aching muscles and fatigue. To be extra safe, you can heat cold cuts to steaming to destroy the bacteria. Refrigerate and serve them once they've cooled. Don't count on your refrigerator to control listeria growth if you don't steam the meat first; listeria, unlike many bacteria, can grow at refrigerator temperatures.


Packaged cold cuts contain preservatives, which may pose health risks to toddlers and adults alike. Sodium nitrite maintains the color of cold cuts and prevents growth of botulism, but also can form nitrosamines when combined with stomach acid. Nitrosamines are the potentially harmful compounds that might cause cancer. For this reason, manufacturers often add either vitamin C or erythorbate to cold cuts, to prevent nitrosamine formation and make cold cuts safer. If you buy cold cuts containing sodium nitrite, check for the presence of one of these two as well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers nitrites in foods safe in amounts less than 200 parts per million, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Frying foods increases nitrosamine formation.

Safe Storage

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Cold cuts spoil quickly if they're freshly sliced; don't expect them to last more than one to three days in the coldest part of the refrigerator, columnist Phil Lempert advises on his website, Supermarket Guru. Keep sliced deli meats in the refrigerator, preferably in a drawer marked for meats. Place cold cuts in a sealed container to keep air and bacteria out. Once you open packaged cold cuts, they last no more than three to five days. Discard any cold cuts that have growth on them or that have a bad smell, but discard them after the allotted time even if they smell fine; bacterial contamination might not cause a bad smell.